Philadelphia’s Split Aura is a band that self-identifies as shoegaze, though to my ears they’re more on the dreampop side of the ledger. Formed in 2020, the members are Robert Fanelli (guitar/bass/vocals), Derek Ayres (drums) and Sean Barry (ideas). They’ve recently put out their first EP also titled Split Aura and plan to continue recording over the coming months.
The band states that this three-song collection is “…meant to sound cohesive and work as a set. The songwriting is influenced by Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach, The Cocteau Twins and Kitchens of Distinction. The sound draws more on the jangly, dreamy reverb-soaked side of the shoegaze canon but also employs the subtle use of distortion and crunchiness if needed.” The music is composed and arranged by guitarist Fanelli with all three members providing lyrics, which were inspired by Carlos Castaneda-style experiences with “teacher plants” in the Andes and the Amazon jungle. Recording took place at Mayqueen Studios in Philadelphia with each member working separately with the engineer.
I’m old enough to remember when shoegaze was actually called “psychedelic” music, and that’s my main takeaway here. “The Change (Tune In, Turn It On, Drop Out)” references a phrase made famous by LSD guru Timothy Leary, and the music here would not sound out of place when Leary ruled the counterculture. Shoegaze and even dreampop songs sometimes lather the vocals with effects and purposely obscure the lyrics, but I give Split Aura points for making their vocal tracks clean and clear. Fanelli’s voice has a regular-guy feel but he hits all the notes within this surprisingly complex arrangement. Lyrically this song is what you’d write yourself after experiencing a different level of consciousness: “My world split in two like an atom / Release a power that I could not fathom / Find a song buried under the ocean / Turn it on overflow with emotion.”
“Tough Enough For This World” continues the jangly reverb-soaked guitars of the first track with the addition of some backward effects. An interesting background bed is created with what sounds like several overdubs of bending guitar strings. The lyrics here have the charm and simplicity of late indie hero Daniel Johnston.
“Shy Dancer” introduces a few purposely sour notes and a slightly harder edge to the guitars, more backward effects and some hard to identify noises. All this is clearly intentional, but it’s an unsteady package that works nicely in the choruses but is almost at war with itself in the early verses. “I’m the shy dancer” is a lyric that again could have come from Daniel Johnston.
There’s much here to recommend, though I wish the boys had taken this short format to serve up a bit more variety in their overall sound (to be fair, they did say that cohesion was their goal). I’m sure that further recordings or a full album will bring out even nicer melodies and more audio creativity.
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